England's already high chances of encountering a tough World Cup group have increased further after Fifa threw a procedural curveball which could lead to Roy Hodgson's team facing Brazil, the USA and Italy or Holland.
In an unexpected change to Friday's draw, Fifa has announced that one of the unseeded European teams in Pot Four, which include England, will be picked at random to switch to Pot Two. That pot currently has only the seven unseeded African and South American teams, so the switch will balance the numbers.
It means that two unseeded European teams will end up facing one another and raises the possibility for the first time that England could end up in a "group of death" with Italy or Holland as well as with Argentina or Brazil. Conversely they could still get lucky and draw Colombia, Greece and Honduras.
The change was announced on the day Fifa admitted that not all of the 12 stadiums required for next summer's tournament would meet existing deadlines amid rising concern over the construction timetable.
World football's governing body had the option of naming France, the lowest-ranked European nation, in Pot Two. But it decided instead that one European team should be drawn at random.
The four South American seeds - Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Uruguay - will then be ringfenced in "Pot X". One of them will be paired with the floating European side to ensure two South American countries are not drawn together.
Fifa's secretary general, Jerome Valcke, admitted the plan was complicated but said it maintained the principle of geographic separation and ensured all 32 teams were involved in a "real draw" with no predetermined outcome.
If England remain in Pot Four with Italy and Holland, potentially the toughest group they could face would include Spain or Germany or one of the South American giants, plus Chile and the USA or Mexico. An easier group might feature Switzerland, seeded in Pot One as one of the seven best-ranked countries at the end of October that joined the hosts Brazil, as well as Algeria and Iran.
But Hodgson has said he is more concerned with where England will play their matches than who they will face. Given
(c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
Original headline: England could be in group with Brazil, Italy and USA: Fifa moves goalposts for World Cup draw: Stadiums may not be ready for deadline
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